Retail Training in Virtual Reality: The New Secret Weapon to Scale
On a busy retail floor during peak sales season, it’s difficult (if not impossible!) to pull a veteran employee away from critical duties in order to train a new recruit. Thankfully, human resources has a new technology at their disposal to scale trainers: virtual reality (VR).
Not only is VR effective in scaling training programs, but it also easily immerses trainees in difficult or unique situations without real-world consequences. VR training environments are perfect for the retail industry where turnover is high, trainers are typically tasked with many other responsibilities on the sales floor, and success is dependent on customer service quality ratings.
ABI Research projects the enterprise VR training market will generate $216 million in 2018, and grow to $6.3 billion by 2022, with major retailers like Walmart and Lowe’s leading the charge. Walmart partnered with STRIVR to recreate several different training scenarios in VR and deployed the platform to train over 150,000 employees, resulting in 70 percent of trainees receiving better scores on exams. At Lowe’s, more than 400 employees have been trained using VR, with 90 percent reporting that VR training helps them better serve customers.
Conducting training exercises in a VR environment offers many opportunities to retailers looking to upgrade existing employee education programs, including the following:
- Increased collaboration in situations that require multiple employees working together to solve an issue. VR is effective in enabling successful group dynamics during training scenarios that require floor associates or back-of-house employees to act in unison to solve a problem — typically one that’s time sensitive or high stress.
- Manage high employee turnover via on-demand scalable training environments. For many retailers, employees come and go seasonally or with little notice. Using VR to train employees is an efficient way to cycle associates through required onboarding education with little to no time lost if they stay for only the short term.
- Scale trainers by offloading training exercises to artificial intelligence (AI)-powered “trainers” in VR. Retailers can keep their most seasoned and best-performing employees on the floor to tend to management tasks and customers, rather than spending time in one-on-one or small group training exercises. Virtual trainers can also document that work was done correctly in a quality control capacity, as well as keep a log of exact actions taken.
- Upskill existing workers seamlessly to aide in change management related to new floor procedures, customer service flows, and merchandising or warehousing technologies. This is where AR shines, as wearable devices can stream an information overlay over real-world scenarios, effectively foregoing the need to reference a hard-copy training manual. This also lends to greater worker flexibility in shifting among roles and duties.
- Heighten empathy via experience immersion. Imagine the ability to prepare store associates for a seasonal rush or help them sympathize with an unhappy customer in a high-stress situation. More interactive training leads to more engaged experiences and even “tricking” employees into learning.
With 70 percent of consumers seeing clear benefits of using AR devices in their daily life and at work, the retail industry is primed to begin experimentation with mixed reality to improve existing training operations and procedures. Showcasing a commitment to innovation is also an increasingly important tenet of attracting and retaining top talent. It’s time for retail HR to re-examine training programs for opportunities to incorporate VR and AR in order to increase efficiencies, scale trainers and get associates back to helping customers on the sales floor.
Jaimy Szymanski is an industry analyst and founding partner of Kaleido Insights, a research firm that analyzes how new technologies impact humans, organizations and ecosystems.